Rallo: Cuts could ‘gut’ colleges in Louisiana

Rallo: Cuts could ‘gut’ colleges in Louisiana
Miranda Quartemont, (318) 487-6419 8:42 p.m. CST February 7, 2015
ANI John Rallo Joseph C. Rallo, commissioner of higher education, speaks at the joint meeting of the Louisiana Faculty Senates and Louisiana Statewide Colleagues Collaborative held Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015 at LSUA. -Melinda Martinez/mmartinez@thetowntalk.co

(Photo: <137>Melinda Martinez/mmartinez@thetowntalk.com<137><137><252><137>)

The Board of Regents’ new Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Rallo is touring the state to learn more about its campuses and talk to other higher education leaders.

On Saturday, he stopped by Louisiana State University of Alexandria where faculty and staff members from public universities across the state have been meeting quarterly for discussion.

“It’s good for me to hear from leadership,” Rallo said. “Hopefully, they know they have someone with vision, and who is grounded in the faculty … I understand their role.”

Rallo gave a presentation he called “An Introduction to the New Commissioner: Thoughts, Plans, Strategies, Visions.”

But the main talking point quickly became what kind of impact the state’s budget deficit will have on higher education.

Although there will not be an exact figure until sometime next week, Rallo is expecting the budget to be cut by $400 million, he said on Saturday.

He said that kind of blow could “gut” higher education if the Legislature did not recognize its value.

But he believes they do.

“Legislators understand the role of higher education in a way they haven’t in the past,” Rallo said. “ .. They recognize we graduate students who get jobs, pay taxes and create new jobs.”

When Rallo first learned of the state’s budget shortfall his first day on the job Jan. 2, he said he immediately began working with his staff on a list of ways to repurpose funds that have been used elsewhere to go towards higher education.

The board wants to bring those ideas before legislators.

Rallo said there has to be more funds coming from somewhere and that raising tuition, cutting faculty and benefits or operating schools on even tighter budgets will not work.

He also talked about challenges facing universities nationally that financially will affect them in the long-term.

Some of those included the move toward more non-traditional students, distance learning, competency-based learning and skepticism over the value of a college degree given the amount of debt it brings.

“Higher education can’t look the way it did five years ago,” Rallo said. “Educators have to understand the changing landscape … and we have to change some stuff.”

Rallo also will be the keynote speaker at the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance’s luncheon Monday at the Alexandria Convention Center.